A 4% Chance of Helping 1/3 of 1%

In the last Congressional session, the EDCoalition aggressively pursued the SERVE Act. It is also supporting the new SERVE Act which was recently filed. The Supporting Eating Disorders Recovery Through Vital Expansion Act (SERVE) Act sought to, and seeks to expand TriCare, allowing military family members over age 20 access to eating disorders care, and ensures servicemembers and their families have access to comprehensive eating disorders treatment nationwide.

It is admirable that the EDCoalition would focus on our military and the eating disorder needs within that community. My father was an Air Force pilot. Among other planes, he flew the F86 Sabre jet, the U.S.’s first swept wing fighter. I have a nephew who at 30 years old, is a Captain in the Air Force stationed at the Pentagon. I have two uncles who proudly served. And yet, with regard to eating disorders, the number differential between civilians and military personnel who suffer from this disease is staggering.

If the numbers are to be believed, 30 million Americans have or will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. There are currently approximately 1,400,000 active United States military personnel. The EDCoalition estimates that up to 8% of military personnel suffer from eating disorders. That would be 112,000.00. However, that number may be a bit high. The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch states that between 2013 and 2017, 1,788 active-duty troops were diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Whether you use the figure of 1,788 over five years or 112,000, both numbers pale in comparison to 30,000,000. 112,000 is approximately 1/3 of 1% of 30,000,000.

Certainly, there are aspects of Tricare which need to be amended. Stopping treatment in residential treatment centers for mental health issues including eating disorders at age 21 is nonsensical. With some persons serving in the armed forces for decades, this age limitation certainly needs to be amended.

In the past, Tricare on its website stated that it did not cover residential treatment care for eating disorders. That is no longer the case. On August 7, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a position letter on Tricare and eating disorders.

https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/708697.pdf

As one can readily tell, Table 3 in that Report provides a comprehensive list of Network and Non-network treatment facilities where eating disorder treatment is covered. This Report also states, “DOD [Department of Defense] is examining ways to improve its screening of eating disorders in the military as well as to identify possible ways to prevent such conditions in the military.”

The Report also states, “… DOD recently expanded the available research funding for eating disorders in its Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) with the goal of obtaining more comprehensive information on prevalence of eating disorders in the military and exploring ways to improve diagnosis of and treatment for the condition. In addition, the PRMRP is funding opportunities for research identifying biological and environmental risk factors associated with eating disorders, which could inform efforts to prevent or reduce the prevalence of these conditions. For example, one recently sponsored PRMRP project is developing an eating disorder screening tool for use with veterans and the military population.”

It is gratifying to see that at least one entity is pursuing research funding.

Military Veterans in Congress

With regard to Congress, military veterans constitute a strong and influential presence. The following military veterans served in the 116th Congress which just concluded:

• 96 total veterans in the 116th Congress.
• 30 were Democrats, 66 were Republicans.
• 19 served in the Senate, 77 served in the House.
• 48 served in the military after 2000.
• 21 served in the military in the 1960s or earlier.
• 19 were first-time lawmakers.
• 7 were women.
• 50 served in the Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard.
• 17 served in the Marine Corps or Marine Corps Reserve.
• 17 served in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.
• 13 served in the Navy or Naval Reserve.
• 1 served in the Coast Guard

That constitutes about 18% of all Senators and Congresspersons with representation in both major parties. With such a strong presence, one could presume that support for eating disorder bills impacting the military would be relatively low hanging fruit.

How the EDCoalition fared with SERVE Act in the last Congress.

With regard to the SERVE Act, we can rightly presume that our military veterans serving in Congress would support this bill. However, the facts indicate otherwise.

The following table indicates the Military Veterans in Congress and whether they supporting the SERVE Act.

DistrictPartyNameServiceEraSERVE Act Score
GA 9GOPDoug CollinsAF Reserve2000s-2010sNo
WY SenateGOPMike EnziAir Force1960s-1970sNo
SC SenateGOPLindsey GrahamAir Force1980s-2010sNo
PA 6DemChrissy HoulahanAir Force1980sNo
VA 5GOPDenver RigglemanAir Force1990sNo
OR 4DemPeter DeFazioAir Force1960s-1970sNo
TX 36GOPBrian BabinAir Force1970sNo
MS SenateGOPRoger WickerAir Force1970s-1990sNo
OH 6GOPBill JohnsonAir Force1970s-1990sNo
GA 11GOPBarry LoudermilkAir Force1980s-1990sNo
UT 2GOPChris StewartAir Force1980s-1990sNo
NE 2GOPDon BaconAir Force1980s-2010sNo
CA 33DemTed LieuAir Force1990s-2010sYes
IL 16GOPAdam KinzingerAir Force2000s-2010sNo
GeorgiaRepublicanJohnny IsaksonAir Force1960s-1970sNA
FL 16GOPVern BuchananAir NG1970sNo
PA 10GOPScott PerryArmy NG1980s-2010sNo
OK SenateGOPJim InhofeArmy1950sNo
KY SenateGOPMitch McConnellArmy1960sNo
MA SenateDemEd MarkeyArmy1960s-1970sNo
RI SenateDemJack ReedArmy1970sNo
AK SenateGOPTom CottonArmy2000s-2010sNo
IN 4GOPJim BairdArmy1960s-1970sNo
TN 7GOPMark GreenArmy1980s-2000sNo
CO 6DemJason CrowArmy1990s-2000sYes
FL 6GOPMichael WaltzArmy1990s-2010sNo
FL 17GOPGreg SteubeArmy2000sNo
KS 2GOPSteve WatkinsArmy2000s-2010sNo
NY 11DemMax RoseArmy2010sNo
AK (House)GOPDon YoungArmy1950sNo
GA 2DemSanford Bishop Jr.Army1960sNo
IL 1DemBobby RushArmy1960sYes
MN 7DemCollin PetersonArmy1960sNo
NJ 9DemBill PascrellArmy1960sNo
NY 15DemJose SerranoArmy1960sNo
NC 1DemG.K. ButterfieldArmy1960sNo
CA 5DemMike ThompsonArmy1960s-1970sYes
NC 3GOPWalter JonesArmy1960s-1970sNo
VA 3DemBobby ScottArmy1970sNo
TN 1GOPPhil RoeArmy1970sNo
TX 11GOPMike ConawayArmy1970sNo
LA 3GOPClay HigginsArmy1970s-1980sNo
TX 1GOPLouie GohmertArmy1970s-1980sNo
SC 2GOPJoe WilsonArmy1970s-1990sNo
FL 2GOPNeal DunnArmy1980sNo
NV 2GOPMark AmodeiArmy1980sNo
AR 1GOPRick CrawfordArmy1980s-1990sNo
KY 2GOPBrett GuthrieArmy1980s-1990sNo
OH 8GOPWarren DavidsonArmy1980s-1990sNo
IL 15GOPJohn ShimkusArmy1980s-2000sNo
NY 1GOPLee ZeldinArmy2000sNo
FL 18GOPBrian MastArmy2000s-2010sNo
IL SenateDemTammy DuckworthArmy NG1990s-2010sNo
IA SenateGOPJoni ErnstArmy NG1990s-2010sNo
SC 4GOPWilliam TimmonsArmy NG2010sNo
KY 5GOPHal RogersArmy NG1950s-1960sNo
NY 2GOPPeter KingArmy NG1960s-1970sNo
AR 3GOPSteve WomackArmy NG1980s-2000sNo
OH 15GOPSteve StiversArmy NG1980s-2010sNo
MS 1GOPTrent KellyArmy NG1990s-2010sNo
HI 2DemTulsi GabbardArmy NG2000s-2010sNo
KS 1GOPRoger MarshallArmy Reserve2010sNo
MD 4DemAnthony BrownArmy Reserve1980s-2010sNo
OH 2GOPBrad WenstrupArmy Reserve1990s-2010sNo
LA 5GOPRalph AbrahamCoast Guard, ANG1980s-2010sNo
KS SenateGOPPat RobertsMarine Corps1950s-1960sNo
CT SenateDemRichard BlumenthalMC Reserve1970sNo
IN SenateGOPTodd YoungMarine Corps1990s-2000sNo
AK SenateGOPDan SullivanMarine Corps1990s-2010sNo
IN 6GOPGreg PenceMarine Corps1970s-1980sNo
TX 3GOPVan TaylorMarine Corps1990s-2000sNo
ME 2DemJared GoldenMarine Corps2000sNo
CA 8GOPPaul CookMarine Corps1960s-1980sNo
IL 12GOPMike BostMarine Corps1970s-1980sNo
MI 1GOPJack BergmanMarine Corps1970s-2000sNo
AZ 7DemRuben GallegoMarine Corps2000sNo
MA 6DemSeth MoultonMarine Corps2000sLead
PA 17DemConor LambMarine Corps2000s-2010sNo
CA 50GOPDuncan HunterMarine Corps2000s-2010sNo
WI 8GOPMike GallagherMarine Corps2000s-2010sNo
CA 24DemSalud CarbajalMC Reserve1990sNo
MI SenateDemGary PetersNavy1990s-2000sNo
FL SenateGOPRick ScottNavy1970sNo
CA 39DemGil CisnerosNavy1990s-2000sYes
NJ 11DemMikie SherrillNavy1990s-2000sYes
VA 2DemElaine LuriaNavy1990s-2010sYes
PA 14GOPGuy ReschenthalerNavy2000s-2010sNo
TX 2GOPDaniel CrenshawNavy2000s-2010sNo
TX 22GOPPete OlsonNavy1990sNo
DE SenateDemThomas CarperNavy Reserve1960s-1990sNo
IN 8GOPLarry BucshonNavy Reserve1980s-1990sNo
MD 1GOPAndy HarrisNavy Reserve1980s-2010sNo
CA 20DemJimmy PanettaNavy Reserve2000sNo
IN 3GOPJim BanksNavy Reserve2010sNo
MS 4GOPSteven PalazzoMarine Corps/Army1980s-2010sNo
AZ SenateGOPMartha McSallyAir Force1990s-2010sNo

In the Senate, of the 19 Senators who are military veterans, their support, or the lack thereof, was unanimous. Not one of the 19 Senators who served in our military supported the SERVE Act.

In the House of Representatives, 8 Congressmen and women, including the lead Congressman supported the SERVE Act. That means sixty-nine (69) Congresspersons did not support the SERVE Act.

With eating disorders allegedly being more prevalent within our military personnel, it is perplexing that our Congressmen and Congresswomen who previously served in the military, did not uniformly support the SERVE Act. So, out of fairness we should consider the other politicians in Congress and their outlook on not just the SERVE Act but on the other initiatives supported by the EDCoalition.

Congress and the SERVE Act

Our friends at the EDCoalition assemble a scorecard for Senators and Congresspersons. Each time a politician either signs a letter showing support for a bill, or introduces legislation they co-sponsored or legislation they voted directly for relating to eating disorders, they receive a positive check. A grade of 0 through 4 is then assigned to each check, with o points indicating no support and 4 indicating support. (There are other ways to increase the score such as being the sponsor and introducing the bill). Naturally, if a politician has not indicated any support at all, they receive a score of zero.

The EDCoalition makes it clear that, “It is important to note that the legislative efforts listed on this scorecard reflect a combined effort from the eating disorders community, and not solely EDC-led initiatives.”  Presumably this refers to NEDA and the REDC who pay the same lobbyist, Center Road Solutions.

The EDCoalition then listed fifteen (15) bills, resolutions, letters and initiatives they supported. One would be justified in assuming that if the bills had merit, politicians, especially those who previously served in the military, would support in theory, if not practice, those bills.

The EDCoalition issued its most recent scorecard on December 15, 2020. To say the numbers are disturbing would be charitable.

In the Senate, of the 53 Republican Senators, FORTY-SEVEN (47) received a score of ZERO. This indicates no support whatsoever for eating disorder bills and resolutions. And lest one think that Republicans alone are forestalling bills on eating disorders, of the 45 Democratic Senators, TWENTY-SEVEN (27) received a score of ZERO. Of the two, Independent Senators, both had a score of ZERO, including Senator Bernie “Mittens” Sanders.

Of the Democrats in the Senate, the following well known Senators had a score of ZERO: Cory Booker (D) NJ, Elizabeth Warren (D) MASS, Diane Feinstein (D) CA, and our current Vice President Kamala Harris (D) CA.

In the House of Representatives, the numbers are equally alarming. Of the 199 Republicans, one hundred sixty-eight (168) received a score of ZERO.  Of the 235 Democrats, ninety (90) received a score of ZERO. Of the Democrats in the House, the following well known Congresspersons had a score of ZERO: Adam Schiff (D) CA, Maxine Waters (D) CA, and Henry Cuellar (D) TX. Two members of the Democratic Socialist “Squad” registered scores of ZERO; Rashida Tlaib (D) MI and Ayenna Pressley (D) MASS. Two other members of the Democratic Socialist Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) NY and Ilhan Omar (D) Minn each registered scores of one (1).

Apparently, eating disorder bills are being ignored by both conservative Republicans on the far right and liberal Democrats on the far left. To date no stand-alone eating disorder bill has ever made it out of Committee for debate on the House or Senate Floor. No eating disorder bill emphasizing research funding has even been introduced for eight (8) years.

With so many politicians from both sides of the aisle ignoring eating disorder bills, at what point is the community justified in demanding explanations and accountability. Even though the concepts of accountability or “perform or perish” are alien to the eating disorder community, when faced with such an overwhelming display of ineptitude and incompetence, are we not justified in looking at alternative ways of accomplishing goals?

As we saw last week, appropriations for funding of research of mental health issues are usually submitted through the National Institute of Mental Health (“NIMH”). NIMH makes funding requests to be included in the annual federal Appropriations Bill. 

Statements from the EDCoalition that “meaningful progress in eating disorders treatment and intervention will only be realized to the extent we meaningfully invest in its science” ring hollow since their words are not backed by its conduct. Research means Progress. Progress means Hope. Hope begets Recovery.

As shown last week, Congressional bills have on average, a 4% chance of being enacted into law. That means we are looking at a 4% chance of success on a bill that will have an impact on 1/3 of 1% of people who suffer from eating disorders. AGAIN, THAT IS A 4% CHANCE OF HELPING 1/3 OF 1% OF THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM EATING DISORDERS.

The subject matter of bills and the subsequent lobbying efforts on those bills are dictated by those who provide the financial resources for those endeavors. So, as our families continue to suffer and our children continue to die, aren’t we entitled to transparency and honest answers to the questions of who is supplying the funding for these foolhardy ventures, who is making the decisions to pursue certain bills and why isn’t crucial research funding being pursued?

It is an absolute certainty that if an organization, like NEDA, solicits donations from the general public and as part of its solicitation efforts it represents that “… It’s time we stop treating them [eating disorders] as vanity illnesses and put serious effort into research that can help us broaden the understanding of what eating disorders are and who they affect.” … “The more funding allocated to eating disorders research, the quicker we can learn more about what causes them — and the quicker we can save more lives.” that organization has the absolute, non-delegable duty to advise its donors what specific legislative initiatives it is pursuing. Especially when that organization collaborates with other entities and jointly pay lobbyists a six figure revenue stream. As the EDCoalition publicly stated, “It is important to note that the legislative efforts listed on this scorecard reflect a combined effort from the eating disorders community, and not solely EDC-led initiatives.”  Undoubtedly, this refers to NEDA and the REDC who pay the same lobbyist, Center Road Solutions.

Suppose that an organization solicits donations representing to the public in general and the eating disorder community in particular, that said donations are going toward crucial research on eating disorders but in fact, those donations are not being directed toward research based Congressional bills. Then presume that same organization conspires with other organizations, pools their funds to pay a single lobbyist to pursue bills which not only are not research based but do not pertain to the vast majority of people who suffer from this disease. If these facts are proven, then it is axiomatic that all organizations and persons participating in this subterfuge should be held accountable.

Difficult questions need to be asked. Transparent answers to these difficult questions must be demanded and can be voluntarily made. But, we cannot expect that. So, if transparent answers are not voluntarily given, they can always be discovered during sworn, deposition testimony or in a court of law.

And in a lawsuit through discovery, there is a much greater likelihood than 4%, that the answers sought will be at long last uncovered.

RESEARCH FUNDING EVERYWHERE AND NONE OF IT FOR US

Shepherding a bill through Congress, from introduction through being enacted into law is incredibly difficult. Between 2001 and 2015, nearly 74,500 bills were introduced in Congress. However, only 2,345 became law. This equates to approximately four percent (4%). That number is actually high when you consider bills that become law are often changed, sometimes materially, from their introduction to passage.

If bills you support, like the Nutrition Care Act (H.R. 3711), the Serve Act (H.R. 27670) or the Eating Disorders Prevention in Schools Act (H.R. 6703) are not signed into law during a legislative session, when a new Congress is seated in January of odd numbered years, your bill dies. Bills need to be reintroduced anew, are renumbered and the process begins again. That process is daunting and complicated. That was apparent even back in 1976 when Schoolhouse Rock first aired its iconic, “I’m Just a Bill” episode.

As for eating disorders, enactment of bills into law is non-existent. Introduction of bills which emphasize research into eating disorders has been completely abandoned. And yet, that in and of itself is curious since all persons recognize that in order to diagnose and properly treat this illness, the highest priority must be research.

In September 2019, EDCoalition president, Chase Bannister, made the following remarks before the National Institute of Mental Health National Advisory Mental Health Council:

“This mortality rate underscores the severity of this illness, as it is common for individuals with eating disorders to have co-occurring medical and behavioral health conditions, increasing the complexities of proper intervention and treatment.”

“Proper intervention and treatment for any condition requires an investment in research.”

“Amongst all psychiatric conditions, … funding for eating disorder research remains among the most discrepant from the burden of illness they represent.”

“Meaningful progress in eating disorders treatment and intervention will only by realized to the extent we meaningfully invest in its science.”

That same day, the ED Coalition issued a press release stating in material part: “For too long, research funding for eating disorders has been an order of magnitude away from what’s necessary. Meaningful progress in eating disorders treatment and intervention will only be realized to the extent we meaningfully invest in its science. We call upon NIH – and all who make or shape policy – to invest in eating disorders research. To do what’s necessary.”

With this universal understanding, it is particularly perplexing to see that bills emphasizing funding for the research of eating disorders have been completely abandoned by the EDCoalition. The last such bill was introduced in Congress in 2013. Eight (8) long years ago. And that is perplexing and is the basis for many questions which need to be asked … and transparently answered. Answers we know that will never be voluntarily forthcoming.

First, appropriations for funding of research of mental health issues are usually submitted through the National Institute of Mental Health (“NIMH”). NIMH makes funding requests to be included in the annual federal Appropriations Bill. Without its passage, federal programs are not funded and government run agencies and organizations cease to operate.

Prior to the 2021 Appropriations Bill being signed in late December of 2020, NIMH submitted to the United States Senate an “Explanatory Statement for Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2021 Summary of Budget Estimates and Committee Recommendations for Fiscal Year 2021.” This was a  281 page document. The document made requests and recommendations regarding funding research for mental health issues to be included in the 2021 Appropriations Bill.  For example, requests were made for the following:

$300 million increase for Alzheimer’s and dementia research funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $15 million to fund and implement the BOLD Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act (P.L. 115-406), and advances the Improving HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 880/H.R. 1873);

$8.48 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), with $6.91 billion (a $169 million [2.5%] increase) dedicated to research and related activities. 

$6.015 billion for Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) an increase of $133 million which includes:

  • $757.5 million for the community mental health services block grant, including a NEW $35 million block grant set-aside for crisis services, a NAMI priority;
    • $24 million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, an increase of $5 million

$500,000,000 to the National Institutes of Health for research related to opioid addiction, development of opioid alternatives, pain management, and addiction treatment at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

$52,344,000 for Autism and Other Developmental Disorders program for this program which supports surveillance, early detection, education, and intervention activities on autism and other developmental disorders, as reauthorized in the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support [Autism CARES] Act of 2019 (Public Law 116–60).

$41,619,000 for University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities for the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, a network of 67 centers that are interdisciplinary education, research, and public service units of a university system or public or nonprofit entities associated with universities.

As for eating disorders? In this 281 page Recommendation Report, the only reference to eating disorders appears on page 115 and states as follows:

Eating Disorders.—The Committee commends NIH for supporting multi-Institute research on the chronic, fatal, and serious mental illnesses encompassing eating disorders that affect 30,000,000 Americans during their lifetimes, and its association with other conditions such as diabetes, infertility, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use, polycystic ovary syndrome, and tooth decay. The Committee recognizes that eating disorders are a deadly bio-psycho-social illness and that multiple research topics must be explored to understand, prevent, and treat eating disorders, including psychosocial issues; health disparities and food insecurity; environmental factors such as weight stigma; the complex interplay of metabolic processes; and maternal health. The Committee encourages NIH to continue to support a multi-Institute approach and to report on current research efforts related to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of eating disorders in the fiscal year 2022.” [emphasis added]

No specific funding recommendation.

No recommendation for specific grants or grant amounts.

No recommendation for a financial commitment.

No specific funding for research into the biological and genetic causes of eating disorders.

Although the Committee stated that it commended NIH for supporting multi-Institute research on the chronic, fatal, and serious mental illness known as eating disorders it did not recommend any specific funds be appropriated for research.

So where did this language come from? [Apologies for ending a question with a preposition.] A little digging results in the answer to this question. This language came from a March 2020 letter addressed to the Chair and the Ranking Member of the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Related Agencies. The letter was signed by forty-three (43) Congresspersons. A copy of that letter is attached here:

Despite the fact that this letter contains no requests for funding of research, I am confident that our friends at the EDCoalition stood on the sidelines, and as is their wont, “applauded or praised” this worthy endeavor.

But once again, a mental health illness which is believed to impact nine percent (9%) 0f the United States population is excluded from specific federal funding.

A mental health illness which is believed to result in one death every fifty-two (52) minutes is excluded from specific federal funding.

Admissions from the EDCoalition that “meaningful progress in eating disorders treatment and intervention will only be realized to the extent we meaningfully invest in its science.” And yet no research based bills are pursued by that organization which presumably results, in part, in NIMH making no specific financial recommendations for eating disorder research in fiscal year 2021.

On the other hand, those Congressional bills which have a four percent (4%) or less chance of being passed and which, even if passed, will not impact research, await! The death toll rises. And even still, there is no demand for accountability.

In the next article, we will explore the “Congressional Scorecard of the EDCoalition,” apply it to the EDCoalition and look at what the future may hold.

A Legacy

I don’t really care if people forget me. My legacy wasn’t about me. It was about everything I could do for another. When that sinks in…well you try a little harder. You dream a little broader. Your heart stretches a little farther and you find that you can’t go back to the same place and make it fit. You become a person of ideas and seek out your own kind. And then it happens: One day you discover that staying the same is scary and changing has become your new home.” 

Shannon L. Alder, Author

When I googled the phrase, “do not try to create your own legacy” the following links first appeared on page 1:

“You Can Make a Difference: 7 Ways to Create a Legacy;”

“How to Think About Building Your Legacy;”

“10 Ways to Build Powerful Legacy Now;”

“How to Build Your Legacy;”

“7 Great Quotes on Leaving a Legacy;”

“Your Children are Not Your Legacy;”

“5 Ways a Legacy Driven Mindset Will Define Your Leadership;”

“5 Simple Steps to Build Your Legacy;”

“How to Build a Legacy;”

“The Basics of Building a Legacy – Cultivate What Matters.”

Obviously, either my google skills need significant refinement [a veritable certainty] or a search about not trying to create your own legacy is so counterintuitive as to be non-existent. After all, don’t most people believe they can write their own legacy, they are masters of their domain, lord of the manor and king of the county? People WILL remember them a certain way! Isn’t that what most people desire?

Life events over the course of the past year or so have brought into focus the fragile nature of existence, the lives we touch and how we are perhaps remembered. In October 2019, my elderly father passed away. In September 2020, my elderly mother passed away. In November 2020, my slightly older brother passed away. In January 2021, my younger brother nearly passed away after suffering a massive heart attack. A beautiful granddaughter being born in November 2020.

A reminder that death comes for us all. Everyone dies. But, not everyone really lives. Can we dictate what people think of us while we live, let alone after we are gone? And should we even try? If we focus a great deal of time and attention in attempting to establish our own legacy, isn’t that by its very nature, the very essence of egocentricity and is in fact, counterproductive to establishing a memorable legacy?

Is a life so focused on trying to build your own legacy as inane and shallow as those people who today, go forth and loudly proclaim themselves patriots? That seems to be the height of self-identification and is almost exclusively a self-created label. After all, a person’s actions and conduct may to one group of people be seen as daring and noble. To another group, that same action and conduct may be seen as foolhardy and damning. King George VI certainly did not see George Washington and the other founders of our nation as patriots but as traitors.

So, what do we spend our life trying to build? What will be our legacy? Will we be remembered at all by future generations and if so, for what will we be remembered? Is that even important? And can one bold, daring act tear apart and even tear down a perceived established legacy? Or many years from now, is that one bold, daring act looked upon by future generations as singularly courageous?

Recently, a few people advised that whatever “legacy” I thought I was trying to establish in the eating disorder community would forever be tarnished because of my involvement in the class action lawsuit against NEDA. Another person stated that she doubted that organizations would collaborate with me again on any matter. If that is the case, it would be unfortunate that a community could act from a place of fear and insecurity by placing personality differences and differing viewpoints over the advancement of a common cause. That unfortunate point of view is also exacerbated by the reality that those people are basing their actions upon a faulty premise.

The fundamental misunderstanding with their line of thinking is … I am not concerned with and am not trying to establish a “legacy.” I have not been an eating disorder advocate for my entire life. In fact, had my daughter recovered, like many other strong men before me, I would have left behind this dysfunctional community and never looked back. In a heartbeat. But, that was not to be my fate.

I believe too many people in the eating disorder community are more concerned with trying to establish their own legacy. They seem to be trying to accumulate power and they demand respect. They believe they have paid their dues and it is their time now! They place their own ego over the needs of families and people who suffer, and die from this disease. They fear progress not generated by them. And the more they try to accomplish their self-important goals, the further away they get from achieving anything of substance, let alone greatness. And whatever legacy they so desire continues to elude them. Perhaps they have forgotten, or perhaps never knew a fundamental foundational element about legacies.

There is a prescient line from a movie entitled, “Star Trek – First Contact.” One of the main characters, the inventor of warp drive was explaining that his vision of a device that would change humankind was inspired not by noble thoughts and altruism, but by his lust for money and pleasure. In response, another character responded, “Someone once said,  Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its judgments.”

So, how does history make its judgments on legacies? What conduct does history embrace or shun in carving and shaping a person’s legacy?

Are legacies made by those persons who lead organizations blindly and with little vision and compassion? Or, are legacies made by those late night phone calls when a young person suffering from an eating disorder reaches out to you because you are a safe place for them?

Are legacies made by people who loudly proclaim that their views on counseling and social justice are the only correct views and if you do not agree with them, they ostracize and in some cases harass you? Or, are legacies made when a young person, mostly recovered from her own battle with eating disorders, with tears in her eyes, looks you in the eyes and tells you that you are her second daddy?

Are legacies made by persons who on the outside may project a façade of confidence and intelligence, but on the inside their soul is gripped with fear and insecurity and they live their daily existence so afraid that their pain will be discovered? Or, are legacies made when a mother, with tears in her eyes, tells you that she believes you saved her child’s life because now her child is recovering and has a chance at life?

Are legacies made by persons who are looked upon as knowledgeable simply because of their longevity in the community and because people like them? Or, are legacies made when a young woman who was in treatment with your daughter contacts you, tells you that your daughter was so important in her recovery, that she just had a baby, and she gave your daughter’s name to her child as her child’s middle name?

Are legacies made in the broad light of day for all to see and admire? Or, are legacies made in the quiet of the night where only you and one other person know that on that night, that one blessed night, one more life was saved?

I know I am not erudite enough to supply meaningful insight into any of those questions. I do believe that a soul doesn’t explain its purposes or the path it directs you to follow. Instead, perhaps our true legacy lies at the end of that path. Perhaps, when we try to get off that path, our legacy is pushed further away. Perhaps when we try to force our way down that path sooner, to “make things happen,” our legacy fades even further away. Perhaps when our focus turns to the self, to our ego, to our own self-aggrandizement, our legacy remains out of reach.

What is your legacy? Again, who can possibly know that? But, is it possible that we get closer to what our legacy could be by simply getting out of own way, by performing simple acts of love and kindness with no expectation of acknowledgement or reward? By living in a place of service to others with grace and humility? Now, make no mistake. There will be those necessary times which demand a warrior’s mentality. Times which demand great and mighty deeds. Times which require a soul filled with strength and courage. Times which demand decisions made intelligently and decisiveness. But after you wield that sword, one must return to that fundamental place of humility and service to others.

As for my legacy … I will remain just a man. And let history make its own judgments.

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

                  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we pause to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. A dynamic Southern preacher who came to be the face of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and beyond. He is oft quoted (as above) and represents the very best of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.

Three words which are being bandied about with great frequency in the eating disorder community. Seemingly every eating disorder organization now includes a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.

How do those three words intersect? After all, what is diversity without inclusion?

For that matter, what do those words even mean in the context of a serious, deadly mental illness like eating disorders? We are not addressing those terms in the context of being able to sit on a bus. We are not addressing those terms in the context of admission to a school or university. We are not addressing those terms in the context of greater representation on corporate boards of directors or partnership in law firms or accounting firms.

We are addressing those terms in the context of a deadly mental illness, an illness with biological and genetic components. An illness that claims a life every 52 minutes. Life and death. The highest stakes possible.

Today, many organizations in the eating disorder community are racing head long into political correctness to see which one can virtue signal the most. Some are choosing to include pronouns after their names believing that illustrates how enlightened and inclusive they are. Some organizations publicize how they are expanding their membership and committee involvement to include greater representation among African Americans, Hispanics, LBGTQ and other minorities. All are commendable and worthy actions. All are needed actions.

No rational person can argue against the fact that the mental health industry in general, and the eating disorder community specifically, need many more African American, Hispanic, LBGTQ and other minority counselors, therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other medical and mental health professionals.

No rational person can argue against the fact that medical and mental health services must become more available and more affordable to the African American, Hispanic, LBGTQ and other minority communities.

To further those ideals, I am embedding an article from National Council of Non-profits. This article sets forth practice pointers; questions to consider when establishing a D&I action plan; Resources for your learning journey; Resources for Non-Profit Employers; Diversity on Boards of Directors and for Grant makers and includes other useful information:

https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/why-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-matter-nonprofits

These are incredibly complex issues which involve and impact all aspects of life … from education, to healthcare, to access, to education, to treatment and research funding, to the family structure and society in general. And because these issues are so incredibly complex, to provide real life, workable solutions which will better society as a whole, we need the greatest thinkers and leaders from all walks of life, who are well versed in and have ideologically diverse backgrounds and experience. And therein lies the breakdown in the mental health community, particularly the eating disorder community.

Most of the eating disorder organizations are dominated by women who identify politically with the very far left. Women of intelligence. Women of passion and drive. Women who have controlled and monopolized the eating disorder community from its inception. And in the present drive to be more diverse, they are looking for women, people, and non-binary persons of different races, creeds, or sexual orientation. African-American persons. Hispanic persons. LBGTQ persons. Trans persons. Non-binary persons. A veritable rainbow of persons. All commendable. And yet despite this drive for diversity, these organizations seem to be only seeking persons who all think, believe or have the same ideals, ideological mindset and political views. If you are politically far left with a far left mindset, you are welcome. That ideological mindset is cast in stone.

However, if you do not have that mindset, not only is a place at the table not open to you but you are subject to being ostracized and in some cases, fingers are pointed at you as part of the problem. Despite the fact that eating disorders intersect between medical and mental health issues, one person in the eating disorder community publicly stated, “Public health in this country is getting it so wrong. Those of us who have done the work around our internalized biases no longer trust the medical establishment to actually help us. This is no space for white, straight and thin folks to jump in.”

One organization likened eating disorders to intersecting with oppressions like racism, ableism, healthism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and more. When one delved further, white male privilege was included in the list of “isms” harming people with eating disorders.

And therein lies the problem and begs the question … How can an organization or leaders in a community preach the necessity of diversity and inclusion, when their very actions dictate that diversity without inclusion is not only acceptable but is the right path to take? They ostracize and exclude persons of different ideological intellects simply because, they think differently.

In 2015, Somalian born, Dutch American activist, Ayann Hirsi Ali authored an OpEd article in The Harvard Crimson in which she stated the following:

“Diversity. It is a principle that today’s society values greatly—a sign of virtue, moral progress, and greater social inclusivity. 

Yet somehow we have got so caught up in the pursuit of diversity that we have drifted away from the core of what it was all about, the core of liberalism: the individual.

Instead of struggling and campaigning for the freedoms and rights of the individual, some of us seem more focused on the freedoms and rights of the group.

The greatest overarching identity that liberalism exalts above all others is humanity. We should be fighting for the individual not simply because he or she belongs to this or that minority, but because we are all human.

The identity politics of our time has created a language of political correctness that sometimes verges on censorship. We have allowed the voice of the group, or whoever claims to represent the group, not only to speak for the individual, but sometimes to shout down the individual if his or her story does not fit with an approved narrative.

As a black woman and an immigrant, I am all for diversity. Who isn’t? But I care more for individual freedom. For, in a truly free society, our group identities should diminish, not increase, in their importance.

That, not the entrenchment of historic differences, should be our goal.”

Greater societal inclusivity. Standing up for the rights of the individual. Diminishing group identities. Listening, then trying to understand, and in some cases, embracing the ideas, passion and vision of those who may be ideologically different. Instead of attempting to quash the ideas and resources of those whose thoughts and vision differ from ours. That doesn’t mean you are wrong. To the contrary, it shows greater wisdom, foresight and vision.

Eating disorders are an incredibly complex medical/mental health illness having biological, genetic and societal aspects to it. As such, one wonders why all interested parties, organizations, persons, and leaders cannot band together as one since we all share one common goal, that is, saving as many lives as possible. Why can’t we put away our egos, our own insecurities, our hubris and fears and remember what we are working toward. We certainly don’t have to like each other, but if an intellect and resources we currently do not have or are not making best use of are presented by ideologically different persons, how can we possibly turn down those resources?

The activist, Leigh Morrison in an article in The Inclusion Solution, stated as follows: Next time you encounter an activist action that you may view as “unproductive,” I invite you to ask yourself: why might this person or group see this action as necessary? What privileges do I hold that may prevent me from fully understanding their experience or decision? What may I need to reflect upon or learn more about before I can respectfully engage in thoughtful and informed discussion about this topic? 

And on the day we remember Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., we remember his words:

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.”

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

SO 2020, “HOLD MY BEER” [and a look at a massive heart attack]

The overused punch line, “Hold My Beer” is believed to have its origins in the 1990s and involved those “lovable,” Southern rednecks. The comedian Jeff Foxworthy, who turned redneck jokes into a cottage industry, included this one in his 1996 book, “No Shirt. No Shoes…No Problem!”: “What are a Redneck’s famous last words? Simple. ‘Y’all watch this!’

25 years later, we widely use “Hold My Beer.”   The background of the joke is in essence: Someone does something outrageous and then someone else says “hold my beer” as a prelude to doing something even more outrageous.  Its popularity exploded “on the line” (thank you Vince Vaughn), as the expression became associated with so-called “fail” videos, showing people attempting wildly misguided and foolhardy stunts.

With regard to 2021, some have used “Hold My Beer” in a light-hearted fashion while fervently hoping that 2021 does not exceed the many disasters which defined 2020. Everyone knows someone whose life has been upended by Covid-19. Either they had it, had a friend or family member who had it or knew someone who died from it. We all know someone whose business was detrimentally impacted by Covid-19. We cancelled our traditional family holidays or get togethers. We missed going to our places of worship. And for some of us, in 2020, the dark specter of death appeared to mercilessly claim our loved ones.

In 2020, for me, death did not take a holiday. Instead, it hovered in a cruel manner insinuating itself in its attempt to claim the last vestiges of humanity and hope. On a quiet Friday night in September, death came quietly and peacefully to my 90 year old mother. She had been in a rehabilitation center since February. Since March, the only people she saw were her fellow tenants and healthcare workers. Then came that phone call in the night, “Mr. Dunn, we just found your mother in her bed. She was non-responsive.” And you are left remembering the person she was, the person who nurtured you before dementia began to take her memory.

October marked the first commemoration date of my dad passing. It also marked the fourth commemoration date of my beloved daughter passing. But, death was not through with its insidious plans. On a calm, early November afternoon, I got that call from my older brother’s wife. The pain, the fear, the anguish reverberated as she told me that my older brother had a massive heart attack while at home. A few days later, we watched over him as his heart beat for the last time.

Afterwards, we tried to go back to our daily life …while picking up the pieces from the carnage that death had left. At year end, we tried to believe the worst was behind us. We tried. And before 2021 was even one week old, the specter of Death reappeared, mocking us, grimly laughing at us, taunting us with, “Hold My Beer.”

Almost two months to the day when I got that phone call from my older brother’s now widow, on Tuesday January 5, 2021, I received a call from the wife of my younger brother. The number was a Las Vegas number I did not immediately recognize. I heard a sobbing female voice. Between those sobs of terror, I hear, “Jim had a massive heart attack. He’s in the hospital in surgery right now.”

I am one of the few people who still refer to my younger brother as James … not Jim.

So, yes, my younger brother, almost 2 months to the day my older brother died of a heart condition, had a massive heart attack. I was told he had 100% blockage in one heart ventricle. This past year, naturally being a Dunn, he didn’t tell anyone he had been having minor chest pains as a result of not getting enough oxygen in his system. “Just rub a little dirt on it, you’ll be fine.”

Paramedics arrived. Their worry and anxiety could not be hidden. On the frantic drive to the nearest hospital, calls to the doctors at the nearest hospital were made by the paramedics. Wheeled into the emergency room, twelve (12) medical professionals began to work on him, desperate to save his life.

Have you ever wondered what a massive, heart attack looks like? When one of your ventricles is 100% blocked? Well, it looks like this …

If you are fully aware and alert, you feel agonizing pain in your chest, you feel death begin to sink its icy claws into you. You hear the medical professionals surrounding you, reassuring you, and encouraging you to stay strong, it will only last a few more minutes … and then inexplicably, you may slowly begin to feel yourself start to breathe. In fact, just five (5) minutes after they start to perform life-saving medical procedures, if you are lucky, your clogged heart starts to look like this …

The medical professionals continue to reassure you, just a minute or two more and then … you breathe easier, you feel life begin to flow back into you. Just thirteen (13) minutes after they began to work on you, the blood flow into your heart begins to look like this …

Your pain eases. Your breath starts to come easier. Visions of your older brother dying start to recede. You dare start to believe again that your two children will not live the rest of their life without their dad. The reality hits. Your life can begin anew. And perhaps, in that brief period of time, your soul will find you. And your new journey will be embracing the reality that your soul’s purpose will be revealed to you. You may have dragons to slay … or your own demons to face. But, you are here.

Facing mortality does that to us. Yours or your loved ones. Mortality. Life and Death. It is so uncomfortable to face, to discuss, to try to grasp the finality of death.

Death. The manifestation, the reality, the most glaring sign of our failure. Especially with regard to eating disorders. If the United States Deloitte Report on Eating Disorders is accurate, the mortality rate among people suffering from eating disorders is far worse than what we previously thought. With the highest mortality rate belonging to people who suffer from anorexia nervosa.

Parents of children whose lives were ripped from our loving arms are shunned in the eating disorder community. The stories we could tell, of what worked, what did not work, stories that could provide new, incredibly strong insights into this disease, go untold. Journals of its victims go unread by eating disorder professionals. We remind you of your own failure. To ignore us and the voices of our loved ones who have been taken is bad enough. But, we now know that some individuals and organizations in the eating disorder community use us as fund raising ploys to attempt to fill their own coffers. Individuals and organizations too craven and cowardly to embrace transparency as they blindly race to the bottom of the political correctness barrel.

We are the uncomfortable reminders of your failure.

Our own mortality hits us all in different ways. Family members taken. Family members on death’s door. Beloved children taken from us. Our own mortality.

You have an incredible opportunity to listen, to learn, to grow. To go beyond your own perceived limitations so that more lives can be saved. You can embrace this opportunity to learn … or suffer the consequences if you do not.

MY ETERNAL BELOVED

My Eternal Beloved,

Christmas is once again upon us. And this year like no other.

Four years and 8 weeks ago, you were taken. The light of your existence was extinguished. And yet, I pray each day that you are soaring higher and farther beyond all human comprehension. I pray that you are seeing, and living, incredible experiences that we, on this earthly plain cannot possible fathom. That you are surrounded by peace, by love.

This year is so very different than past years. In the past 14 months, you have been joined by my dad, your “Paps.” In the past two months, my mom, your “Mams” has joined you. (I hope you are being nice to her and not pulling the practical jokes you loved so much!) And in the past 6 weeks, my loving brother, your “Uncle Chuckles” is with you. (Now with him, pull all the practical jokes you want!). But, in our world today, a world so caught up in fear, and anger, and bitterness, the sting of missing you is greater than ever before.

At the same time, an incredible bundle of joy, a new life arrived at just about the same time your Uncle Chuckles left. Your niece, my granddaughter, Riley Emilia came to us. In fact, I held her for the very first time about one hour after I was told that my brother’s condition was fatal, that he was in essence already gone. And the tears came, uncontrolled and relentless. A combination of the greatest love and the deepest pain enveloping me at the same time. But also, seeing my son differently, perhaps for the first time. And although already a loving dad to a now, incredible 9 year old Spitfire (who by the way, reminds many of you and the fighting spirit you have), this new life seems to have rejuvenated him soulfully. There is now a calmness within him. And I am seeing an aspect that either I could not, or would not see before.

He remembered how decorating the Christmas tree was something that you and I held dear. How we adorned the tree and then spent hours stringing popcorn and cranberries. So, he brought his loving wife and Riley to my house and helped decorate the tree this year. I rediscovered the difficulty in decorating the tree with one hand while holding a baby against your chest. And the time that we held so dear, the joy of seeing our tree come to life, came to life in a different, sacred way this year. Who knows, perhaps next year we will reprise another tradition we had … driving out to East Texas and finding our tree at a Christmas tree farm.

But now, my son, your brother, has asked, has burdened me with a task so incredibly difficult, that I will need to summons all the willpower, courage, strength and resolve I have.  With Kennedy, my other granddaughter now being 9 years old, my son believes it is time she got to know you, her Aunt Morgan much better. So he asked me to go through your journals, the very repository of your struggles, your fears, your hopes, your strength, your anger, your love … and find inspirational passages and pages which defined the very best parts of you. To assemble them in a booklet and give it to Kennedy as a Christmas present.

Your journals are a sharp reminder of your struggles, your hopes and in some ways, my belief of my own failures. He was asking me to undertake an onerous burden. I also believed that he did not truly have an idea of how difficult this was going to be, that some wounds were not meant to be reopened. I was wrong about that too.

Two days ago, he called me and we started talking about this task. When I told him how taxing it was on my soul, he replied, “I know it must be. But dad, perhaps you need that.” You see Morgan, sometimes wisdom comes to you from unexpected places in the most unexpected ways. And you simply must leave yourself open to embracing that wisdom. So, as I assemble Kennedy’s book, there are moments of laughter, moments of tears and moments of admiration as I read once again, the incredible strength, the incredible character, the depth of wisdom, and yes, your fears, your hurt, your pain and how you courageously poured out your emotions, thoughts and feelings onto those pages. And I am reminded anew of how and why you inspired so many.

Oh Morgan, what a community in which I have been immersed. The eating disorder realm. There is so much anger, fear, hurt and yes, some hatred. So much dysfunction. Sometimes it seems like some of the leaders have lost sight that this is an incredibly deadly disease, a disease that claimed your life, and are more concerned about their own power, their perceived legacy. And you are constantly being joined every day by others who succumb. But, at the same time, there are also incredible persons of great character, intelligence, wisdom, faith, compassion and humanity. Persons, like you, who inspire others to lift themselves, to challenge the status quo, to embrace the endless possibilities of what could be.

My beloved daughter, physically you are not here with me. But many times I feel your presence and know you are with me. Help me to continue to grow, to become a man, a daddy of whom you would be proud. When I stray from the path, help me find my way back.

Tonight, at 11:31 p.m., I will again light a candle for you. One candle to illuminate a room of darkness. One candle to guide me. One candle to sustain me. One candle to give hope. One candle to give, and receive love.

Merry Christmas my beloved daughter. I love you.

Your Daddy

PRESS RELEASE FAUX PAS AND … “WHY THE TWO ORDERS COLONEL?”

A press release can be an incredibly useful tool. In the hands of a skilled professional, a press release can inform, educate and entertain an audience while setting the foundational tone to acquire that which is desired. But, in the hands of an amateur, when pressure is applied, when an entity is being closely scrutinized, a poorly designed press release can become a dangerous, costly mistake leading to liability and unwanted attention.

Nowhere is this more true than in the litigation arena. For persons, corporations, foundations and other entities experiencing federal court litigation for the first time, the grandness of the arena can be overwhelming. A judge appointed for life by Congress. The full trappings of the adversarial system. The most skilled litigators and law firms. Attorneys who prey upon mistakes, upon errors contained in press releases and other publicly released documents.

Late last Thursday night, litigation was filed against the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). The case sets forth complex causes of action set forth over forty-five (45) pages. Understanding of the complexity of the claims demands the greatest expertise, intelligence and courtroom acumen from even the most experienced of attorneys. And yet, at approximately 3:30 p.m. the next day, NEDA issued a press release about the lawsuit. This press release is set forth here:

https://www.facebook.com/NationalEatingDisordersAssociation

The desire to start to frame the issues and get ahead of the narrative is intuitive. But, it can also be a siren song leading to the inevitable destruction of that party. Especially if that party is being less than complete or transparent. In NEDA’s press release, it stated in part the following:

The plaintiffs in this case are represented by an attorney who has been active in the eating disorders community, Steven R. Dunn, so may be familiar to members of our community.”

For reasons known only to NEDA, it chose not to comment on the other law firm and attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case. That is, The Nichols Law Firm led by Justin P. Nichols based out of San Antonio. Mr. Nichols is a leading consumer, credit and plaintiff’s attorney and is listed as one of the top 20 family law attorneys in the San Antonio area. Mr. Nichols is also a champion advocate for the LBGTQ community. In January 2014, Mr. Nichols filed the first complaint under San Antonio’s then new, nondiscrimination ordinance claiming AT&T fired his client, Matthew Hileman, because of his gender identity. In fact, Mr. Nichols represented the first three people to utilize that amended non-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mr. Nichol’s name is listed on the Complaint. At the time of the press release, NEDA had this information. As such, one is certainly justified in speculating why NEDA consciously chose to not comment on Mr. Nichols, his impeccable reputation and history of representing persons in marginalized communities.

Later in the Press Release, NEDA states, “We are deeply disappointed that at the very time the eating disorders community should be pulling together to meet these pressing needs, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit and Mr. Dunn have chosen to take an action that will create friction within the community and divert precious financial and personnel resources that should be devoted fully to those NEDA serves.

On October 28, 1980, then Governor Ronald Reagan in a presidential debate with then President Jimmy Carter uttered one of the most well-known and oft repeated phrases, “There you go again.”

Again, for reasons known only to NEDA, it chose to be less than transparent and forthright with regard to the above statement in the following manner:

  •  NEDA chose to not disclose that it had received extensive documentation of these claims as early as mid-August;
  • NEDA chose to not set forth the communications NEDA’s attorney had with plaintiffs’ attorneys on this matter;
  • NEDA chose to not disclose that NEDA’s interim CEO had a cordial conversation with Plaintiffs’ attorney regarding possible ways of moving forward;
  • NEDA chose to not disclose that it had received an extensive settlement brochure in September;
  • NEDA chose to not admit that Plaintiffs’ attorneys made good faith attempts to resolve this matter prior to litigation being filed;
  • NEDA chose to not list that NEDA has in place, directors and officers liability insurance and that its annual retention amount on the policy (amount not covered by insurance) is less than one percent (1%) of the monthly amount it pays in rent.

NEDA claims to desire greater transparency with the community. And yet, for an organization claiming it desires this greater transparency, one is justified in questioning why all of these facts and issues were not disclosed to the community in its Press Release.

Of even greater concern is the fact that NEDA’s lack of transparency pertains to not just these so called “meritless claims,” but its own failure to disclose that it utilized these “meritless claims” to fire two of its arguably most important employees, employees who at the very heart of these “meritless claims.”

A Few Good Men

The movie, “A Few Good Men” was released in 1992. Tom Cruise played a young military attorney, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, defending two marines accused of causing the death of another marine during an illegal, “Code Red” enforcement. The villain is Colonel Nathan Jessup, played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson. Nicholson concocts an elaborate web of lies, deceit, deflection and subterfuge in order to shield his own liability. Colonel Jessup epitomizes the very essence of “lack of transparency.”

Nicholson’s charade is finally exposed after a thorough investigation into all facts and a masterful cross examination conducted by Cruise as Lt. Kaffee. In short, the seminal part of their characters’ interaction was as follows:

Kaffee: A moment ago, you said that you ordered Lt. Kendrick to tell his men that Santiago wasn’t to be touched
Jessup: That’s right.
Kaffee: And Lt. Kendrick was clear on what you wanted?
Jessup: Crystal.
Kaffee: Any chance Lt. Kendrick ignored the order?
Jessup: Ignored the order?
Kaffee: Any chance he forgot about it?
Jessup: No.
Kaffee: Any chance Lt. Kendrick left your office and said, “the old man is wrong”?
Jessup: No.
Kaffee: When Lt. Kendrick spoke to the platoon and ordered them not to touch Santiago, any chance they ignored him?
Jessup: You ever served in an infantry unit, son?
Kaffee: No, sir.

Jessup: Ever served in a forward area?
Kaffee: No, sir.
Jessup: Ever put your life in another man’s hands and asked him to put his life in yours?
Kaffee: No, sir.
Jessup: We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It’s that simple. Are we clear?
Kaffee: Yes, sir.
Jessup: Are we clear?!
Kaffee: Crystal. Colonel, I just have one more question … If you gave an order that Santiago was not to be touched, and your orders are always followed, then why would Santiago be in any danger
Jessup: Santiago was a substandard marine. He was being transferred…
Kaffee: That’s not what you said. You said he was being transferred because he was in grave danger.
Jessup: That’s correct.
Kaffee: You said he was in danger. I said “grave danger”? You said…
Jessup: I recall what I said.

Kaffee: I could have the court reporter read back to you…
Jessup: I know what I said! I don’t have to have it read back to me, like I’m…
Kaffee: Then why the two orders? Colonel?
Jessup: Sometimes men take matters into their own hands.
Kaffee: No, sir. You made it clear just a moment ago that your men never take matters into their own hands. Your men follow orders or people die. So Santiago shouldn’t have been in any danger at all, should he have, Colonel?

Which brings us back to NEDA’s press release. In material part, NEDA states, “We have reviewed these claims with our legal counsel and believe that they are without merit.”

We now know that in mid-August, I brought to the attention of Geoff Craddock, the Chairman of NEDA’s Board of Directors extensive information and documentation regarding alleged conduct and actions of certain NEDA’s officers. This information consisted of almost sixty (60) pages of documentation. Information and factual allegations which are incorporated into the lawsuit against NEDA, a lawsuit which NEDA believes is without merit.

And yet, approximately one month later, the week before Weight Stigma Awareness Week, NEDA fired its Chief Global and Strategic Officer, the person who receives the most credit for originating Weight Stigma Awareness Week in 2011. To date, NEDA has never publicly disclosed the reasons behind that decision. Then, approximately one month after that, NEDA parted company with its Chief Executive Officer. Again, without explanation.

To believe that the timing of the ending of NEDA’s association with its CEO and one of her most important officers is a mere coincidence and not related to the “meritless claims,” stretches the imagination beyond all belief. And so when we revisit NEDA’s Press Release and NEDA believing the claims in the lawsuit are without merit, we can’t help but ask,

“So Colonel Jessup, after you received documents and information from Plaintiffs’ attorneys, information which has been incorporated into this lawsuit, a lawsuit which you publicly claim is wholly without merit … why did you fire two of your most important employees within about sixty (60) days after receiving this information?”

“Colonel Jessup, besides receiving the information at the heart of these “meritless claims,” what other information did you receive that was so egregious, that you heartlessly fired one of the architects behind Weight Stigma Awareness Week just mere days before that week started in September?”

“Colonel Jessup, after receiving the documents and information, you could have stood up for, and supported your former officers. Instead, you fired them. Why?”

Eating disorders are believed to have the second highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Families entrust the lives of their beloved children to treatment professionals. Families seek credible, accurate evidence-based information from organizations involved in the eating disorder community. And if an organization refuses to be transparent with the community, if it issues inconsistent and illogical press releases, if it refuses to be accountable for past mistakes, why should the community continue to embrace that organization?

Families deserve better.

Treatment professionals deserve better.

Our children, our spouses, our parents who suffer from this disease deserve better.

Our dear, beloved fallen children taken by this insidious disease deserve better.

We deserve better.

Lift Up the Downtrodden

Undoubtedly, many of you are aware of changes that have taken place over the past few months at the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). Ms. Claire Mysko, NEDA’s former CEO and Ms. Chevese Turner, NEDA’s former Chief Policy and Strategy Officer are no longer associated with NEDA. Subsequent to their departure, I had the pleasure of speaking with NEDA’s interim CEO, Elizabeth Thompson.

In my role as an attorney, I represent a number of people … people who have been angered, people who have been hurt, people who believe they have been misled by certain conduct and actions of NEDA. I brought this information to the attention of Geoff Craddock, the Chairman of NEDA’s Board of Directors. Which merited communications with and attention of NEDA’s attorneys.

The purpose of the communications was not just to inform NEDA of its officers’ and employees’ conduct and actions, but to attempt an expeditious and confidential resolution of all claims. To bring closure for my people and to set the groundwork for hopefully, a brighter future. Resolution that in the long run, could have resulted in a stronger, more open and viable organization.

And yet, time and time again, our good faith proposals were rejected and still we practiced forbearance hoping we could find resolution. But, the initial hope we had to avoid protracted and public litigation began to flicker and dim. And then, was finally extinguished.

I strongly believe that wrongs were committed and people were hurt by these wrongs. And we must ask ourselves, who are we if we enable conduct that hurts people? Who are we if we do not stand up to those who hurt others, especially if those people who have been hurt are some of the most vulnerable in our community? Isn’t it incumbent upon those of us who can provide help, to provide that help and protect them? And if we do not, don’t we become complicit in the hurtful conduct by turning a blind eye as we stand on the sidelines, our eyes cast downward?

I cannot abide that. As such, along with co-counsel, we have instituted a class action lawsuit against NEDA and its former officers in federal court here in North Texas.

This lawsuit will undoubtedly be a long, laborious process. Because of the very nature of our legal system, it will be adversarial all the more so because NEDA will be represented by attorneys employed by its insurance carrier. But, when communications break down, when accountability for past allegedly harmful conduct is not demanded, when an entity continues on with a “business as usual” attitude in the face of its past, highly questionable conduct, then surely we must stand tall and hold ourselves to be counted.

In closing, I am reminded of the Commencement speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven to the 2014 graduating class at the University of Texas:

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when times are the toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.

And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.

Love (and Death) in the Time of Covid

It was inevitable. The scent of bitter almonds always reminded Dr. Juvenal Urbino of the fate of unrequited love.”

And thus began the international best-selling novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And whereas many people believe this literary classic to be a romantic love story, in fact, the author did a masterful job of hiding the true meaning of the novel in plain sight in the very first line.

Today, we live in a time beset by strife, fear, anxiety, depression and yes, death. Those cruel emotions and feelings rule our days as so many of us only embrace those whose ideals and views on life mirror our own. We internalize, while turning away from a future of uncertainty. The road less traveled is not for us. And in avoiding that road, we are missing the opportunity to explore and discover the great mysteries of life, and yes perhaps death, which are hidden in plain sight.

The past sixty (60) days have seen events transpire which impact not just me, but the lives of so many around me. As I set forth those events, it reads like a cheap Hollywood B-movie, too bizarre and implausible to possibly be true. And yet, that road less traveled was laid before me and I had no choice but to walk that path. So, for simplicity sake, I will set forth the events from the past two (2) months in table format:

DateEvent
  
09/18/2020My mother, Vera A. Dunn dies alone, in a rehab center where she had been since February. No in person visits had been allowed since March because of Covid-19.
10/24/2020The one year commemoration date of my dad, Richard E. Dunn, passing away from abdominal cancer.
10/30/2020The four year commemoration date of my beloved daughter, Morgan dying after fighting eating disorders for 7 years.
11/05/2020Thursday day, Rebeca, my brilliant daughter-in-law starts to go into labor.  About one week early.
11/05/2020Thursday evening, Something for Kelly has a successful in person and virtual fundraiser with major innovative announcements for SFK. A number of treatment centers agree to collaborate with Cindy Bulik, PhD on her EDGI initiative. This surprise announcement is made that evening.
11/06/2020Friday morning at 7:36 a.m., Rebeca gives birth to beautiful healthy baby girl, Riley Emilia Dunn. My son, Hanford calls me with this joyous news at 7:42 a.m.
11/08/2020Sunday morning, I am invited to attend and address a men’s group consisting of 37 dads whose loved ones are suffering from eating disorders. The hour long session is incredibly upbeat.
11/08/2020Sunday evening, we receive a telephone call from Gayle, the wife of my older brother, Chuck, telling us that Chuck has been rushed to a nearby ER. He was unconscious, apparently had a heart attack at home, just 8 feet away from his wife. He made no outcry.  We have no idea of his condition.
11/09/2020Monday morning, we host Brian Hufford on the Mental Health Moment. Brian and I discuss the latest ruling in the Wit case which will have huge implications in the mental health community. 
11/09/2020Monday drags on with no news of my older brother.  But, that evening, I  receive a call from my son saying that he is rushing his wife to the ER.  My son says her speech is “Not Right,” she has tightness in her right arm and swelling in her legs.  She is in pain.
11/10/2020Tuesday, my son calls and says that his wife is all clear, no issues and is resting comfortably at home.  My son and Rebeca ask me and Patti to come over that afternoon to see the grandbaby for the first time. 
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 2:00 p.m. I am told that my older brother, Chuck had massive heart attack, his brain is not responsive, he is on body support and we need to expedite going to Florida. I am reminded that I am the executor of the Will and the Surrogate on the Living Will.   I start to reflect on the fact that for the second time in 4 years I may have to make the decision to take a loved one off life support.  The first being my daughter, Morgan.
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 3:00 p.m. I receive a text from James Dunn, my younger brother in California.  He is in the ER.  He fell down some steps and possibly injured his neck, shoulder, and upper back.  He is  waiting on the results from X-Rays and CT Scans.
11/10/2020Tuesday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. I arrive to see my granddaughter for first time.  While holding her, a flood of emotion overtakes me, and I find myself shaking as tears flow like a tsunami washing away my heart and soul, my mask covering my anguish … and love. My son is totally confused.  He has no idea yet about his Uncle Chuck.  I hold my granddaughter for what seems like forever and for the perhaps the first time in my life, I experience “love at first sight.”
11/10/2020Tuesday early evening, I receive an unsolicited email from one of the dads in the dad’s group from two days before. He tells me how life changing that session was, how Morgan is doing great work through me, how he is inspired and has renewed strength.  
11/10/2020Tuesday evening, I receive an update on my older brother’s condition:  He was without oxygen for 15 minutes.  Has been without sedation for days and is not responding.  He is not coming out of the induced coma.  Diagnosis is grim. Plans are made to go to Tampa.
11/10/2020Later that evening,  a friend had given a gift card for dinner so we can go out without any care.  Our friend, Dr. Stephanie Setliff who is instrumental in SFK’s work with eating disorders joins us.  She readily sees the whirlpool of emotions dragging me under and quickly shifts into “doctor mode.”  But, she does it in a subtle and nefarious way and shrinks my head while I am not even aware of it. Patti believes she sees me change before her eyes.  I swear revenge for having my head shrunk.
11/11/2020Late morning, we are in an Uber on the way to DFW airport to fly to Tampa on an American Airlines bereavement pass. While in the Uber we get a call from Gayle, Chuck’s wife.  All flights going into the Tampa airport have been cancelled, the Tampa airport is closed and Hurricane Eta is about to hit Tampa.   The flight is rescheduled for the following day.
11/12/2020All siblings, Chuck’s adult twin sons and his wife are finally in Tampa. We meet my brother, James (who can barely move his left arm), his wife and my sister who arrived after us, at a nearby restaurant. (thanks to Don Blackwell for the recommendation). We go to Chuck and Gayle’s house.
11/13/2020Friday the 13th. Yes … Friday the Flippin’ 13th. We go to the hospital. There is no brain activity. It is confirmed that I am the Surrogate. Everyone talks. We discover that Chuck is an organ donor. This will delay things by about a day. The decision is confirmed that when donees are found, the “body support systems” will be disconnected. Disbelief and sorrow permeate and grip us all.
11/14/2020We wait to receive the call from the hospital that it is time for us to return one final time. We continue to tell stories of Chuck’s life. I write a few, brief views on Chuck’s life to be read before the medical devices are disconnected. Gayle comes up with a play list to be played while she and his boys wait for his last breath after the medical equipment has been disconnected.
11/14/2020I talk with the hospice liaison around 7:00 p.m. We are told to be at the hospital no later than 10:00 p.m. Donees have been found. We are reminded that once the medical equipment is disconnected, they will only take organs if Chuck’s life functions end within 60 minutes.
11/14/2020The siblings say our last good-byes. Gayle and his boys will be with him. Patti and I leave the hospital for the last time around 9:45 p.m. and go to a restaurant/bar across the street.
11/14/2020The medical equipment is disconnected at approximately 11:00 p.m. Chuck hangs on for approximately 70 minutes. And peacefully breathes his last.

A person who at the young age of 64 appeared to be the picture of health. A marathon runner. Sailor. Captain of American Airlines flights. I am left to wonder and ponder. I think back to the quote I used in the last article. 

“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
― Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

And right now, I am having a very hard time embracing “the mercy of God.” But, I do not have a difficult time remembering the incredible life led by Charles R. Dunn.

Chuck’s twin sons, one a Captain in the Air Force stationed at the Pentagon at the young age of 29 years. The other, a police officer and SWAT team member in the Midwest. Both, outstanding young men placing service to their country over their own wants. And the world is a better place.

He pinned the police officer’s badge on his son for the first time:

When I needed him for support at an eating disorders walk, he was there:

During our childhood, he was the person I followed (sometimes into trouble!):

A proud, loving father:

The man I occasionally tried to get into trouble as we reverted to those yesteryears of being little boys:

I swear, the really good wine is over there!

And of course, a loving husband:

Love’s greatest gift is its ability to make everything it touches sacred.

I could go on for quite some time as musings of life, and death swirl endlessly. Instead, perhaps just simply setting forth the words which flowed through me to be read to the hospital staff will have to suffice:

“There are very few times when you come across a person who personifies “Warrior Mentality.” That larger than life person who goes to battle each day with the mindset of, “I will either come home carrying my shield or will be carried home on my shield.”

That certainly was my brother, Chuck. He sailed fearlessly, he yearned to fly the biggest and fastest planes and he loved owning and driving fast cars. But, he did those things not out of  a superficial sense of self-importance, but because they brought such great joy to his heart.

He loved fiercely … his beloved sons and the person who became the better part of his heart and soul, his loving wife.

And when he left us, I believe he left secure in the knowledge that he left the world a better place than what it was when he came into it … because of his sons and because of the many people whose lives he touched and helped … and with the donation of whatever parts of him may go to others, he will continue to touch and help others in the future.”

You were a man Chuck. You were a great, big man.

The Past, the Future, the Joy, the Sorrow

“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.”
― Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

Life’s complexities are sometimes revealed to us during moments of our greatest weakness when we are most vulnerable. And then sometimes, the awful complexities of life are cruelly revealed to us at a time when we believe we are the strongest, when we are rejoicing.

It would be difficult for me to imagine greater examples showing the incredible dichotomy of life which have been disclosed or forced upon me in the past seventy-two  (72) hours.

Last Thursday night, November 5, 2020, I witnessed the possibilities of a greater tomorrow when driven, compassionate people come together. Despite the Covd-19 apocalypse, and idiocy of a national election hanging in the balance, the Something for Kelly Foundation (“SFK”) hosted a live and virtual event rolling out the EDGI initiative. EDGI is spearheaded by Dr. Cynthia Bulik. During this event, Patti Geolat, Founder of SFK and Dr. Stephanie Setliff, Regional Director of ERC Texas disclosed to Dr. Bulik for the first time, that a number of treatment centers nationally are embracing this initiative and will encourage their patients to participate. And for the first time, we get to see a collaboration between research doctors and clinicians on a large, national scale. The event was filled with live music, laughter, love, joy and hope for a greater future.

Upon arriving at home that night, my son advised me that he and his wife were on the way to the hospital. The same hospital in which both my beloved daughter and loving father breathed their last. But, this time it would be different. This time, we will bask in the joy that comes from the birth of a new soul. And so, laying my head on the pillow that night, I envisioned the endless possibilities of a far better world.

At 7:42 a.m. the next morning, I received a live Facetime message.  I immediately see the smiling face of my son, Hanford, the exhausted but glowing face of his incredible bride, Rebeca, and … the hope and promise of a better world in Riley Emily Dunn. Born just six (6) minutes before. Tears fill my eyes as I watch the parents so filled with love that they can barely communicate holding the miracle they brought into the world. And for a moment in time, that huge hole that exists within my heart and soul, feels a little smaller.

Later that same afternoon, I had a positive, upbeat talk with D. Brian Hufford. Mr. Hufford is one of the lead attorneys in the Wit v. United Behavioral Healthcare case. Three (3) days before, on election day, the federal district court in California published its ruling on the remedies and ramifications imposed against UBH for its bad faith conduct. The ninety-nine (99) page ruling again eviscerated UBH and will provide new hope for the thousands of people insured through UBH.  Brian agreed to appear on the Mental Health Moment the following Monday at 8:30 to talk about the significance of the case and how it will positively impact so many people. In addition, we would address the upcoming oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the case involving the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the 2020 Zombie Apocalypse, the idiocy of the many people who have chosen to define their very existence on who they voted for, and the hardships encountered by many, a beacon of hope, of a greater future is shining brighter.

On Sunday morning, I was honored to be able to participate with a men’s group. This group consisted of fathers and husbands whose loved ones were undergoing treatment at ERC Dallas. When the Zoom session started, I noted there were THIRTY-NINE (39) DADS in attendance! During the years that saw Morgan in treatment, there was never a men’s group like this. It was so well attended and the questions, so many intelligent questions came pouring from these men. And, I felt humbled. I felt grateful. They looked upon me as some kind of expert. I am not. I do not embrace the term, “Expert by Experience.” But, these men stood up to be counted. I felt inspired by them.

Later that day, one of the dads emailed me. His email brought tears to my eyes when he said:

“Hello Steve,

My name is K*** and I was at the meeting with Dr. **** this morning. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us. It is very powerful and moving. I am very sorry for your loss. Your daughter sounds like she was an amazing person. I wish I was able to have met her.

Your incredible attitude and dedication toward bringing awareness to eating disorders is admirable and inspiring. The insight that you shared with us was very helpful. I was able to look up some of the work that you have done and it is very impressive. Your labor of love is very special and I want to thank you for what you are doing. The strength you have found from your grief is truly amazing. Thank you again.

Your daughter would be very proud of you, sir.”

Love, hope, joy, inspiration is flowing. Despite setbacks, despite all odds, despite the fact that my mother passed away in mid-September … I have a strong sense that the tomorrows will be better.

And then … And then …

Sunday evening about 8:00 p.m., I find myself talking on a cell phone with Gayle, my sister in law who married my older brother, Chuck. Now, Chuck is one of those stereotypical Type A personalities.

He is a pilot with American Airlines (although he says he is still an America West pilot) and has flown internationally for many years. (He says Venice is his second home.) He is an avid sailor and has sailed in conditions that would frighten most. An adventurer. Incredibly poorly dressed. Chuck’s idea of dress shoes is black boat shoes. And what a love of music!

And now, he is on the way to the hospital with the paramedics. He was drinking wine at home with Gayle. And then, he became non-responsive. Gayle called 911 who told her to perform CPR. Imagine … the fear, the terror, as you administer CPR to your loved one, hoping beyond hope that the paramedics arrive quickly. At last she feels a pulse.

Because of Covid-19, Gayle is not allowed to do much when she arrives at the hospital. Chuck is rushed into ICU where a breathing tube is inserted. Is it a heart attack or stroke? (both of which are prevalent on our mom’s side of the family) Is it a brain aneurism? Calls to his twin boys are made. And we wait.

It is now the next day, Monday afternoon. By all accounts, that morning the Mental Health Moment segment with Brian Hufford exceeded expectations. I don’t remember any of it.

It is 4:00 p.m. East Coast time and I have no update. I know he is alive. But, I have not heard any reports or findings. The ticking of the clock counting off the seconds echoes through my head. Chuck and I have talked about how we wanted to face the end (as if most of us have a choice). We agreed that at the end, before whatever fatal disease or condition claimed us, each of us would get a small sailboat, about 2 pounds of cocaine and two cases of champagne. That should just about do it. We would boldly sail away going on one last, great adventure! By God, we will go out on our own terms!

And the seconds tick away. Endlessly. Droning. The sands of time pouring through the hourglass. You may wonder how many grains of sand are left. Maybe you smile thinking of that sailboat.

And you remember little Riley. The future Riley could have. The future you so desperately want her to have. You look at her picture. The picture at the top of this article.

You still have hope. And you remember. You remember what still inspires you each and every day. What pushes you forward. What demands that you remain focused on helping others who so desperately need help. You remember.

And even in your pain and despair, you smile. For you do remember. You look at the pictures at the top of this article. You smile.

The picture on the right is the future, Riley.

The picture on the left? Your beloved Morgan.

The past connected to the future. The future tied to the past. And all of us mere bridges between the two.

And so, I await. I remember. And, I hope.